Consistent relationship between global climate and surface nitrate utilization in the western subarctic Pacific throughout the last 500 ka

Eric D. Galbraith, Markus Kienast, Samuel L. Jaccard, Thomas F. Pedersen, Brigitte D. Brunelle, Daniel M. Sigman, Thorsten Kiefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


The open subarctic Pacific is, at present, a high nitrate low chlorophyll (HNLC) region, where nitrate is perennially abundant at the surface. Theoretically, the HNLC status of this region is subject to modification by ocean circulation and/or micronutrient supply, with implications for the effectiveness of the biological pump and hence carbon sequestration in the ocean interior. Records of biogenic detritus in sediments from throughout the subarctic Pacific indicate that export production was generally lower during glacial maxima, while nitrogen isotope measurements from the Bering Sea have shown that nitrate consumption there was more complete during the last glacial period than it is today. Here, nitrogen isotopic analyses of bulk sediments (δ15Nbulk) from three deep water sites in the open subarctic Pacific are evaluated in terms of regional nitrate isotopic composition and local relative nitrate utilization. The eastern subarctic Pacific δ15Nbulk record bears great similarity to δ15Nbulk records from the western margin of North America over the last glacial cycle, suggesting that variability in the isotopic composition of subeuphotic zone nitrate, the growth substrate, is reasonably coherent throughout the northeast Pacific and dominates at these sites. However, the two western subarctic Pacific records, which lie at the heart of the HNLC region, display a different pattern, implying that significant changes in local relative nitrate utilization overlie the regional background variability. After a novel correction intended to remove the background signal associated with denitrification in the eastern tropical North Pacific, these nitrate utilization records are correlated with a benthic oxygen isotope stack reflecting global deep ocean temperature and ice volume (r2 = 0.65). The correlation implies a strong link between global climate and subarctic Pacific nitrate utilization, with nearly complete nitrate consumption during glacial periods when export production was low.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberPA2212
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


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